09 October 2022

Caesar Goes to War


In Revelation, the language of “war” is used to portray the persecution of the saints by the World-Power

Colosseum sunset - Photo by Dario Veronesi on Unsplash
The book of Revelation uses the word “war” to illustrate Satan’s attacks on believers by his human agents. The book shows no interest in conventional or nuclear warfare between nations. Instead, the “Dragon” strives to annihilate the church before his allotted time expires, and he employs deception and persecution to do so - [Photo by Dario Veronesi on Unsplash].

In the image of a “beast rising from the sea” to wage “war against the saints,” the book’s original audience almost certainly would have perceived a reference to the imperial rulers of the province of Asia from across the Mediterranean Sea at the center of the empire, Rome.

While the Roman Empire did not exhaust the application of the prophecy, it was the sixth of the seven kingdoms represented by the Beast’s “seven heads,” namely, the “seven mountains” on which Babylon sits, and the World-Power in John’s time (“the one is” – Revelation 17:10).

THE WAR


In Revelation, references to “war” employ the Greek verb polemeō and its noun form, polemos. When the noun form is used, it is always singular and accompanied by a definite article. It is THEwar.”

Both the noun and verb are applied to the cosmic battle pictured in chapter 12 when “war (polemos) arose in heaven” between the “Dragon and his angels” and “Michael and his angels.”

Expelled from heaven, Satan wages brutal combat against those who have the “testimony of Jesus.” The “battles” are fought between the “Dragon” and the “Lamb” through their respective earthly followers – (Revelation 12:1-17).

This war manifests in the daily lives of Christians as they struggle with deceivers within the church, and when they endure pressure and persecution from the surrounding society and governing authorities. This has been the story of the saints for the last twenty centuries. Empires come and go but the church remains, and the war between Jesus and Satan rages on unabated.

But the day is coming when the Devil will assemble all his forces for one last-ditch effort to annihilate the people of God.

BEAST FROM THE ABYSS


The “Beast” first appears as it is “ascending from the Abyss” to destroy the “Two Witnesses.” The Greek verb rendered “overcome” in the passage, or nikaō, means to “conquer, overcome.” It is the same verb found in the letters to the seven churches in the several exhortations for believers “to overcome” - (Revelation 11:7).

Its ascent results in the Beast’s “victory” over the “Two Witnesses.” However, the “Beast” will not be unleashed to kill them until they have “completed” their prophetic “testimony.”

The “Two Witnesses” are not two individuals but “two lampstands.” In Revelation, “lampstands” represent churches. The “war” against them represents the persecution of the church by the “Beast.”

But though the “Beast” overcomes and kills the “Two Witnesses,” it will be a hollow victory, one quickly overturned by the intervention of God when He raises them from the dead and the seventh trumpet sounds, ushering in the “day of the Lord” and the time of final judgment - (Revelation 1:20, 11:15-19).

THE DRAGON


In chapter 12, Satan is defeated and cast out of heaven.  Enraged, and knowing he has been allotted only a “short season” to execute his plans, he lashes out by “making war” on those “who are keeping the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus,” namely, the saints.

The same reality is in view that was portrayed in chapter 11 when the “Beast” rose from the “Abyss” to kill the “Two Witnesses,” though now it is told from a different perspective.

As before, the forces of Satan wage “war” on the followers of the “Lamb,” the woman’s “seed.” He does not make war on nation-states or against conventional armies.

At the end of the chapter, the “Dragon” is found on the seashore as he summons his own “seed” to ascend from the sea to carry out his war against the “seed of the woman” - (Revelation 12:12-17).

BEAST FROM THE SEA


Next, John sees the “Beast ascending from the sea,” an image parallel to the “Beast ascending from the Abyss.” Once again, the same event or reality is in view.

Rather than resist the “Beast,” the “inhabitants of the earth” are overawed by its irresistible power - “Who is like the Beast and who can make war with it?” No resistance or revolt is raised against this beastly empire by the nations of the earth - (Revelation 13:1-4).

After receiving the authority of the “Dragon,” the “Beast” launches its “military campaign” against the “saints.” Moreover, it “overcomes (nikésai) them,” that is, it kills them. However, it can only do so when and within the limits authorized by the “Lamb” – (“It was given to the Beast…” - Revelation 13:7).

The same term for “war” found in chapters 11 and 12 is employed in chapter 13 to describe the Beast’s “WAR on the saints.” All three passages allude to the same verse in the book of Daniel that describes the attack on the “saints” by the “little horn” from the fourth kingdom:

  • (Daniel 7:21) - “I continued looking when this horn made war with the holy ones and prevailed against them: until that the Ancient of Days came, and justice was granted to the holy ones of the Highest, and the time arrived that the holy ones should possess the kingdom.

Just as the “Beast from the Abyss” attacked the “Two Witnesses,” so also the “Beast from the sea” makes war on “the saints.” In both visions, the same “war,” singular, is in view. Whether the “Beast” also conducts military campaigns against other nations is not the concern of the book of Revelation. It focuses solely on Satan’s efforts to destroy the church.


Elsewhere, the term “saints” refers to men who follow the “Lamb wherever he goes,” to those who refuse to bow to the “Beast” and who have the “testimony of Jesus” - (Revelation 5:8, 8:3-4, 11:18, 13:7-10, 14:12, 16:6, 17:6, 18:20-24, 19:8, 20:6-9).

This “war” results in the “captivity” and death of the “saints.” The violent assault is described as the “perseverance and the faith of the saints” - (Compare - Revelation 1:9, 2:2-3, 2:19, 3:10, 14:12).

SUMMARY


The battle scenes in Revelation are not literal descriptions of warfare between nation-states, but assaults by Satan and his minions against the people of the “Lamb.” The cosmic battles in the heavens manifest in the daily lives of Christians as they struggle with false teachers, false prophets, deception, and persecution.

From its inception, persecution and deceivers have been common realities in the church. The visions of Revelation expose the true source of Christian suffering and provide insight into the opposition experienced in the daily lives of the “saints.”

The book begins with the old Roman Empire but does not end with it. It foresees a final assault by Satan against the Church just prior to the final judgment, a “war” it portrays in several ways with language found in the book of Daniel.

In the end, that final satanic assault will cause the “Lamb” to intervene directly by destroying his enemies and delivering his people into the coming New Creation, the city of “New Jerusalem.” The only World-Power that will be left standing is the Kingdom of God (“The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ: and he shall reign forever and ever”).



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